Amnesty International has slammed an engineering company involved in FIFA World Cup projects.
Migrant workers building FIFA World Cup infrastructure in Qatar still face exploitation and unpaid wages, despite the Middle Eastern nation promising improved labour conditions, according to a new report.
A report by Amnesty International released on Wednesday said the Mercury MENA engineering company, which is involved in several FIFA World Cup projects, "failed to pay its workers thousands of dollars in wages and work benefits, leaving them stranded and penniless".
The human rights group alleges Mercury MENA "took advantage of Qatar's notorious kafala sponsorship system" that has allowed numerous companies to exploit migrant workers.
"In 2017 the Qatari government was applauded after announcing a program of labour reforms. But even as this agreement was being signed, scores of Mercury MENA employees were stranded without pay in squalid accommodation, wondering where their next meal would come from and if they'd ever be able to return home to their families," said the director of global issues at Amnesty International Steve Cockburn.
"Many Mercury MENA employees had made huge sacrifices and taken out ruinous loans to take jobs in Qatar. They ended up working unpaid for months on end and were let down by a system which failed to protect them," he said.
Amnesty International said it interviewed 78 former Mercury MENA employees from India, Nepal and the Philippines, who are owed huge sums by the company.
One worker, Ernesto, a piping foreman from the Philippines, told the human rights group he was in greater debt after working in Qatar for two years than before he arrived in the country.
"In Nepal, where more than a third of the population lives on less than US$2 a day, Amnesty International interviewed 34 people who are owed, on average, US$2,035 each," the report said.
Mercury MENA is helping build the $45 billion Lusail city, a venue for the 2022 football tournament match and it previously helped build a showcase stadium that was part of Qatar's winning presentation to FIFA in December 2010.
While Mercury MENA has not made public comments since the report was released, FIFA has rejected Amnesty International's claims.
"We have no reason to believe the reported violations of workers' rights are in fact linked to FIFA and the 2022 World Cup," a spokesman told AFP.
"We regret Amnesty chose to frame its statement in such a misleading manner."
Qatar has faced years of international condemnation over migrant workers' rights.
Earlier this year, the International Labor Organization (ILO) opened an office in Doha and is facilitating labour reform.
Since the arrival of the ILO, the country has said it will abolish exit permits for most migrant workers - which were heavily criticised as forcing individuals to stay in the country.
Under the previous legal framework, all migrant workers were required to obtain an exit permit from their employer in order to leave Qatar.
There are some two million foreign workers in Qatar, many employed directly or indirectly on World Cup infrastructure projects.
- Additional reporting: AFP